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Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Defensive Ends

Sean Martin

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Tyrone Crawford, Carson Wentz, Eagles

What if the defensive ends on the Dallas Cowboys are actually...wait for it...good? Sure, this team's pass rush as a whole isn't dominant, with defensive end being a position Cowboys Nation expects to see addressed in the offseason, but things could have been a lot worse this season when it comes to Rod Marinelli's defense getting after the quarterback.

For now, the pass rushers on this team are going to be called upon to continue to get the job done in the playoffs, and its time to study this position further with some Dallas Cowboys Playoff Primer.

Benson Mayowa, Ereck Flowers, Giants

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Benson Mayowa

Benson Mayowa may very well have to be the Cowboys' best defensive end this postseason. Relatively well rested, Mayowa saw Randy Gregory get some of his snaps over the last two weeks of the regular season, only to be suspended again for the playoffs and 2017.

Rushing solely from the right defensive end position, Mayowa - when he wants to - shows the skill that Dallas saw in him this offseason to sign the young rusher to a three-year deal. If he's not attacking left tackles right down the middle and getting held in check at the line of scrimmage, Mayowa is bending around the corner with violent hands and pressuring the quarterback.

Undoubtedly the best true RDE this team has for the playoffs, Mayowa is going to need to prove his worth by giving maximum effort over potentially the next three weeks.

David Irving

David Irving has burst onto the scene with the Cowboys this season, jump starting his career under defensive-line guru Rod Marinelli after signing with Dallas in 2015. With three sacks in his last three games, Irving has found ways to get to the quarterback more consistently both as a defensive end and interior tackle.

Primarily playing as an end during his recent hot streak, David Irving has found a way to set up unsuspecting right tackles with some polished counter moves and surprising bend to go with his freakish length and athleticism.

In the Cowboys' previous meeting with the Green Bay Packers, Irving was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week by forcing three fumbles and sacking Aaron Rodgers once despite playing just 19 snaps.

Wherever he lines up this week and throughout the playoffs, opposing offenses are going to have to be aware of #95 in white, which is something we didn't necessarily expect to say about many Dallas defenders this season.
Tyrone Crawford

Tyrone Crawford

Tyrone Crawford is somewhat of a man without a position on the Cowboys defensive line right now, despite being their highest paid player. Once thought to be in store for a big season at the 3T DT position, Crawford has been forced to play at left defensive end due to injuries and lack of depth.

It hasn't been all bad for Crawford as an edge rusher though, as he will flash at times as a pass rusher, while always playing as a formidable strong side run defender.

Getting around the edge with Tyrone Crawford playing LDE will be a tall task for the Packers running game, especially with the Cowboys' cast of linebackers rallying to the ball around him. If Crawford can also find a spark over the next few weeks as a pass rusher, the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line will turn into one of the strongest remaining in the playoffs.

Who would have thought?

Jack Crawford

Jack Crawford is the "Mr. Do It All" of the Cowboys' defensive front, back in 2016 on a one-year deal to add depth as a situational rusher at multiple positions.

While Crawford's impact in the playoffs will realistically be pretty marginal, he is a legitimate and athletic piece to this defense - fitting the mold seen throughout this "orphan" lineup.

Gone are the days of non-scheme fits like Nick Hayden eating up snaps defensively for the Cowboys, because they have a player like Jack Crawford to give them maximum effort as a speed rushing end and penetrating defensive tackle when called upon.

If Dallas isn't going to blitz Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, opting instead to play coverage, the next best thing they may be able to do is unleash Jack Crawford on some obvious passing downs.

DeMarcus Lawrence, Aaron Rodgers, Packers

Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

DeMarcus Lawrence

I saved DeMarcus Lawrence for last in this Playoff Primer, and it's because we need to have a talk about the Cowboys' young defensive end. Just you and I.

When things looked darkest for this defensive line coming into the season, we all took just a bit of solace in the fact that this "emerging star" in Lawrence was going to be on the field.- at least after his four game suspension, handed down as a result of his back injury and the drugs he used to deal with it.

While I joined in on my fair share of hype with Cowboys Nation for Lawrence's 2016 campaign, a part of me always thought that his season would turn out just like this. 

Lingering back injuries have kept Lawrence out of the last four games, and the six he's played have resulted in just one sack. DeMarcus Lawrence was asked to be the guy this season for the Cowboys pass rush, but has always profiled more like a second rusher.

The hope is that Dallas, who will gladly welcome a "second rusher" in DeMarcus Lawrence to join the rotation they'll undoubtedly be relying on over the coming weeks, gets something positive out of Lawrence to refocus with their 2014 draft pick for 2017.

The explosive play has not been there for Lawrence this season like it was in 2015 though, and I highly doubt it will return in time for him to take over games when they matter the most.


To conclude Playoff Primer here at Inside The Star, I'll be looking at the secondary with the safeties and corner backs prior to Sunday's Divisional Round game at AT&T Stadium.

Tell us what you think about "Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Defensive Ends" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowlers Show Promise for Future

Sean Martin

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Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowlers Show Promise for Future

The next class of players to join the Dallas Cowboys may be on the field at Mobile, Alabama this week for the Senior Bowl, but their young core is well represented in front of the Cowboys coaching staff at the Pro Bowl.

With Left Tackle Tyron Smith and Right Guard Zack Martin not participating, the Cowboys have six Pro Bowl participants. The improved health of their offensive line is still one of the best things going for this team in the early part of the offseason, expecting four-time Pro Bowl Center Travis Frederick to rejoin Smith and Martin as soon as OTAs.

A compilation of the best linemen in the NFC will have to do for Quarterback Dak Prescott and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott - making their second Pro Bowl appearance together. It took the addition of Wide Receiver Amari Cooper for the Cowboys offense to find their expected form under Prescott and Elliott in their third season, as Cooper will appear in his fourth Pro Bowl in as many years.

Both times Elliott's made the Pro Bowl, he's done so as the league's rushing champion.

Hardly on track to reach Orlando with the Oakland Raiders, Cooper put up 725 yards and six touchdowns on 53 catches in nine regular season games for the Cowboys. He followed up this resurgent performance with seven catches for 106 yards in the Wild Card Round vs. the Seahawks and six for 65 and a touchdown at the Rams in the Divisional Round.

The Cowboys shouldn't be done adding talent at wide receiver, with Cooper serving as the bold reminder of what Prescott can do with dynamic talent on the outside. Moving on from Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan already this offseason, the next steps towards building the offense around Dak's strengths is yet to be determined.

Meanwhile, their established strengths will be on display, and not just on offense at the Pro Bowl. Making strides as one of the best young defenses in the league this season, Cowboys rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will be joined by Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and Cornerback Byron Jones.

Though its unlikely their coaching will match the intensity of the season, the best thing these three defenders have going for them is more time under Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard. One of Richard's first moves with the Cowboys was moving Jones to cornerback, where he became a first-time Pro Bowler.

Unable to reach his full athletic potential at safety, Jones was the elite corner the Cowboys needed at a position still in need of depth. His length and range should make him a fixture in Richard's secondary for a long time.

Vander Esch becomes the 11th Cowboys rookie to make a Pro Bowl, the third on the defensive side of the ball. Surely the Wolf Hunter will look forward to another week of football, going from eight man HS player to one-year starter at Boise State and finally a Cowboys fixture at linebacker.

The Cowboys did what was thought to be proved impossible this season by fielding a competent defense (mostly) without Sean Lee. Vander Esch and teammate Jaylon Smith deserve the credit here, with Leighton making a larger immediate impact than ever expected as the 19th overall pick.

Last but nowhere near least is DeMarcus Lawrence, much closer to the Cowboys top priority in free agency this offseason than an afterthought at his second Pro Bowl. Putting together consecutive seasons with at least ten sacks, the Cowboys don't have to see anything further from their top pass rusher to do whatever it takes to re-sign him.

The rest of the Cowboys "Hot Boyz" have a lot of potential and promise, but Lawrence is a rare proven commodity at defensive end with 25 sacks in his last 32 games. Rushing the passer in the Pro Bowl is a relatively futile task, but the Cowboys know Lawrence is capable of saving his best plays for the biggest moments. Also a dominant run defender, there simply shouldn't be a reality where the Cowboys are forced to field a defense without Lawrence at left end in 2019 and beyond.

The Cowboys at the Pro Bowl will tell you they'd prefer to be missing the game in preparation for the Super Bowl. Getting within two games of this feat after a 3-5 start is still impressive enough for the Cowboys to feel great about their future, in large part because of the six players representing America's Team this week.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowlers Show Promise for Future" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Handing out Hardware for the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season

John Williams

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Resilience Earns Prescott's 1st Playoff Win, Trip to Divisional Round

The 2018 NFL season for the Dallas Cowboys was literally a roller coaster ride with as many ups and downs as the Texas Giant. Through the first seven games of the season the Cowboys alternated home wins with road losses to get to 3-4. They made as big of a personnel move as they've made in recent years when they traded for Amari Cooper only to all to 3-5 in his debut on Monday Night Football to the Tennessee Titans.

Then the team went on an improbably five game winning streak to put themselves in position to win the NFC East for the third time in five years by mid December. The Cowboys were able to pick up the win in the wild card round over the Seattle Seahawks before being ousted by Todd Gurley, C.J. Anderson, and the Los Angeles -- battering -- Rams' offensive line.

The season always ends with a little disappointment for 31 of the NFL's 32 teams, but this year felt different at the end because of where they were to start the season and after eight games. After the Tennessee game, this team was written off. They were Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. They stormed back and made the 2018 season a memorable one, even if it didn't end with a sixth Lombardi Trophy.

Let's give out some post season awards to your Dallas Cowboys.

MVP

Dak Prescott, Quarterback

Many will scoff at this choice and think it could be Ezekiel Elliott, and I understand, but nobody had a greater impact on the Dallas Cowboys making the playoffs and winning their matchup with the Seattle Seahawks than Dak Prescott did.

Over the final eight games of the season, Dak averaged 278 passing yards per game, 2 total touchdowns, and threw only three interceptions. His numbers down the stretch over a 16 game pace were phenomenal. On 71.6% passing, he was on pace for 4,450 yards, 24 passing touchdowns, eight rushing touchdowns, only six interceptions on the season, with a passer rating of 103.4.

John Williams ✭ on Twitter

Not to make this about Dak, but I'm going to make this about Dak. 2nd in success rate, 3rd in EPA and EPA/play among playoff QBs. #CowboysNation https://t.co/Evyf73uzJ9

His play in the win over the Seattle Seahawks was instrumental in getting the victory to move on to the divisional round. Though they fell short against the Los Angeles Rams, Dak was able to bring them back from 16 down early in the second half to make it a one score game in the end.

Dak Prescott is still a developing player, and in reality, all players are trying to grow their game. Every season. Prescott is a good quarterback, who is on his way to being great and we saw this season the potential that he has.

He threw for a career high 455 yards against the Eagles and three touchdowns and then threw for 387 yards and four touchdowns against the New York Giants. There's evidence now that Dak can throw the ball, and that should scare teams.

In the playoffs, Prescott stepped up and was a big reason why the Cowboys beat the Seahawks and hung in there against the Rams.

Offensive Player of the Year

Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back

Three years, two rushing titles, and it almost seemed like a "meh" season for Ezekiel Elliott. Sure he had some big games, but only a couple times this season did it feel like Elliott took over the game. Some of that is due to the offensive line injuries and inconsistencies, but some of that may be due to Elliott who saw a much bigger workload than he had in his career to date.

He was much more actively involved in the passing game this season as he more than doubled his previous career high with 77 receptions for 567 yards. Though he won the rushing title, this was the lowest rushing yards per game he's had in his short three-year career. Elliott only scored nine touchdowns this season, which tied with his 2017 total that he accrued in only 10 games.

Elliott struggled some in the red zone because the team struggled in the red zone. Some of those issues related to the offensive line and some because of the play calling, but you'd hope that Elliott would be able to overcome some of that where it mattered most.

Defensive Player of the Year

DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End

No player on defense has a bigger impact for the Dallas Cowboys than Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence. Whether it's in the run game or the passing game, DeMarcus Lawrence is elite in both categories and makes life incredibly difficult on the opposing offense.

On the season he had 10.5 sacks, finishing with double-digit sacks for the second year in a row. While that may not be as impressive as his 2017 total of 14.5, he was doing his thing with much less help along the defensive line. There wasn't another player who flirted with double-digit sacks this season. Though Randy Gregory, Maliek Collins, and Tyrone Crawford performed well, teams gave all of their attention to Lawrence in both the run and pass game.

And he was still amazingly effective.

Lawrence finished fifth among EDGE players -- 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebackers -- in tackles, fourth in the NFL in Pro Football Focus' "stops" measure with 44, and 15th in total pressures. Pro Football Focus ranked Lawrence as the seventh best EDGE defender, ninth best pass rusher, and the 12th best run defender. J.J. Watt and Khalil Mack were the only other EDGE defenders who ranked in the top 12 as both a pass rusher and run defender per Pro Football Focus.

DeMarcus Lawrence is heading into the offseason looking to get a long-term deal done.

Rookie of the Year

Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker

While Connor Williams and Michael Gallup had really good starts to their NFL career's no rookie for the Dallas Cowboys was as impressive as 19th overall pick Leighton Vander Esch. He led the Dallas Cowboys in tackles and "stops" and had the second highest grade of any defender as graded by Pro Football Focus.

In tackles, he was second only to future Hall of Fame inductee Luke Keuchly and fellow rookie Darius Leonard. Vander Esch did all this while playing a limited number of snaps as the Dallas Cowboys eased him in at the start of the season and then attempted to find a way to have Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Sean Lee on the field together.

It was an impressive year for the former Boise St. Bronco and the sky is the limit for Vander Esch. He's now played just his second season as a starter in 11-man football. If you remember, he didn't start for Boise St. till the 2017 season and had played 8-man football in high school.

I'm really looking forward to seeing what kind of progression Vander Esch can make to his game in 2019. He's going to be a great player.

Most Improved Player

Jaylon Smith, Linebacker

The 2017 season was not kind to Jaylon Smith. It was his first attempt at playing football since January of 2016 when he tore his ACL in the Fiesta Bowl. It was amazing that he was even playing, though he didn't play considerably well.

2018, however, was a different story.

Jaylon Smith could make a case for team MVP. He may not have had as many tackles as Vander Esch, or as many sacks, but by playmaking defensive EPA, he was nearly as effective at making big plays on defense as DeMarcus Lawrence.

Cowboys Stats & Graphics on Twitter

Overall playmaking EPA rank among all NFL defenders: 5. DeMarcus Lawrence 7. Jaylon Smith 58. Leighton Vander Esch

EPA measures the effect a play will have on the score. Not all plays are weighted the same, as some weigh heavier because of down and distance, turnovers, etc. Jaylon Smith had an excellent season for the Dallas Cowboys and looks to be the guy that they thought he would be when they selected him at the top of the second round in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Having Smith and Vander Esch roaming around the middle of the field for the Dallas Cowboys moving forward is huge. They're excellent at moving in space and are excellent definitions of "sideline to sideline" players.

Jaylon Smith is one of the players I'm already looking forward to watching again in the 2019 season.

Comeback Player of the Year

Randy Gregory, Defensive End

After sitting out all but two games of the 2016 season and all of last season, Randy Gregory came back this season and had a good year. With only one sack in his career heading into the 2018 season, Gregory had a nice comeback year with five sacks and finished tied for second on the team with 37 pressures according to Pro Football Focus. According to Pro Football Reference, Gregory was second on the team in tackles for loss.

The Cowboys have Randy Gregory under contract for the 2019 season for just under $1 million.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The Dallas Cowboys have a lot to feel optimistic about as they look to roster build this offseason in preparation of the 2019 season. They have several ascending players playing key roles for them. This team looks primed to contend again in 2019.



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Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott And Amari Cooper Added To 2019 Pro Bowl

Kevin Brady

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Sean's Scout: Resilient Prescott Inches Cowboys Closer to NFC East Title
Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

As is usual now that 30 teams' seasons have concluded, players on playoff teams are beginning to drop out of the 2019 Pro Bowl. Notably, New Orleans Saints quarterback/wide receiver connection Drew Brees and Michael Thomas each decided they will stay home next Sunday, rather than participate in the NFL's All Star game.

As replacements for these two, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper have been added to the NFC Pro Bowl roster.

Dallas Cowboys on Twitter

DallasCowboys wide receiver @AmariCooper9 and quarterback @dak have both been added to the NFC #ProBowl roster! → https://t.co/9HYuqBvi7z

For quarterback Dak Prescott this is his second Pro Bowl selection in his first three seasons. While Pro Bowl selections aren't always a great indicator of being a top tier quarterback, especially if added as an alternate, Prescott's selections do show that he has been among the NFC's best for much of his young career.

With Prescott on the NFC roster are Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, making this a very mobile quarterback depth chart.

This will be wide receiver Amari Cooper's third Pro Bowl appearance, and his first as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper had instant chemistry after adding the Pro Bowl wide out via trade midseason, and it's exciting to see them added to this All Star game together. Despite what some fans may think, both Prescott and Cooper do "deserve" to be additions to the game, boasting some of the best performances in the conference during the second half of the season.

Prescott and Cooper join teammates DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Elliott, Byron Jones, and Leighton Vander Esch to play in this year's Pro Bowl game.



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